I finally got caught up on the deluge of Marvel movies.
It took my more cinematically-informed friend sorting through the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s must-see’s and optional’s, but several weeks and six films later, I was finally ready to see the big one—Avengers: Infinity War.
My friend tried hard not to say too much about it, in part because I hate spoilers and in part because, in his words, “I don’t want to hype it up too much.”
We’d experienced issues with hype in the past when I’d convinced him to check out one of my favorite anime, Trigun.
“It’s got such great characters!” I’d told him. “The pacing’s really good. It’s funny, it’s emotional; I loved it!” But he was less impressed, and I worried I’d let him down in a big way by over-hyping the show.
And my friend and I aren’t the only ones susceptible to the damaging effects of hype. When the video game No Man’s Sky released, fans were rabid to play. Expectations sailed sky-high due to fan speculation and promised features. But when No Man’s Sky released, it was a shell of what had been promised and an echo of what people had anticipated. The PR fallout was tremendous, but some argue it wouldn’t have been nearly as bad if it hadn’t been for the game’s over-inflated hype.
|These may not be No Man’s Sky fans,
but the sentiment was the same.
But is it really hype’s fault for a piece of media’s failure? Is it someone’s fault if they “ruin” a story for you by over-hyping it? How can talking up a piece of media ruin the experience?
Expectations Affect Us
Like it or not, our expectations affect how we feel about what we watch. When we go into something expecting greatness but it falls short of our expectations, it can cause us to be extra critical when we might otherwise be more tolerant of flaws.
But why is that?
When Betrayal Happens
Over-hyping something feels like a betrayal on some level. It feels like someone lied to us. That’s not a great way to start. And a bad start can cause opinions of a piece to rapidly tumble downhill. Ever noticed how much easier it is to nitpick when you have a bad attitude to start?
I often wonder if this is contributing to The Last Jedi controversy. Would people be listing so many flaws if the film hadn’t failed them early on… and if the hype surrounding the film hadn’t been so great?
In fact, has Star Wars’ perceived “fall” as a series been largely due to hype? Star Wars is, of course, an enormous franchise, and people have high expectations for it, as super-fans themselves will admit. Many argue that the alleged “fall” of Star Wars quality hasn’t actually happened, that this is just the clamoring of “fanboys” who are over-hyping the new films, upset that they can never recapture the nostalgic feeling Star Wars once evoked.
But I don’t think that’s the case for the majority of upset fans. Take two of the most recent Star Wars televisions series, The Clone Wars and Rebels, for example.
Many fans reacted to the announcement of Star Wars: The Clone Wars with skepticism, but it eventually became something fans say “took [their excitement for Star Wars] to whole new levels”1 and is described as “some of the best Star Wars media that you could ask for.”2
These glowing quotes aren’t the product of nostalgia; this show only ran from 2008 to 2014, a pittance compared to the original three Star Wars films’ legacy of 41 years and counting.
By contrast, when the follow-up TV show Star Wars: Rebels arrived, many older fans didn’t like it. Why? Was Rebels too hyped-up after the “nostalgic trip” people had experienced from The Clone Wars? Perhaps. But many fans will tell you that Clone Wars had displayed the high level of storytelling quality we could expect from a Star Wars TV series… and Rebels did not deliver that same level of quality.
When Opinions Matter
In a perfect world, others’ opinions shouldn’t matter. But the problem is, for many of us, some people’s opinions DO matter, either individuals that we care about (like close friends), those whose opinions we respect (reviewers), or even the mass public (“If a lot of people like it, it must be good!”). Many of us turn to others to give us hints on things we’d enjoy watching. If our friend says some movie was awesome, we’ll probably be more willing to give it a chance than if we’d never heard anything about it. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, as anyone in media knows.
So what happens when someone says a piece of media is horrible? How much does that affect our own experience?
I’m personally more willing to skip something altogether depending on what the story’s reputation is, whether it’s founded or not. This has its pros and cons. I’m judging something based on what others have said about it; I’m not forming my own opinions about it. However, I do know a lot of my own tastes. If someone who has very different tastes than me says a story was great, well… I can usually avoid that story and save myself time and aggravation.
For instance, I have a friend who adores stories with surprise endings that result in tragedy. I, however, don’t care for sad endings. So if my friend were to say, “Oh, such-and-such movie was fantastic,” I’d be more leery to watch it knowing that it probably has content I just wouldn’t enjoy like she does.
And I think this is the key to understanding why hype can ruin an experience: it’s all because of our different opinions and interpretations. One person may love an element of a story you don’t value as highly; they may think a story was phenomenal when you walk out thinking it was just “Okay.” In the really bad cases of over-hype, you walk in expecting to find something you’ll adore… you don’t end up adoring it… and it turns your opinion from “It was okay” to “It was actually bad—especially compared to what I was anticipating.”
It’s unfortunate that expectations and hype can affect our opinions this way. I really envy those who can safely form their opinions free from any bias.
As for the rest of us, we’ll just have to carefully sift what we hear before passing judgment on something.
Notes and References:
- Thor Skywalker, “How The Clone Wars Saved Star Wars,” YouTube video, 8:47, September 3, 2018.
- The Cosmonaut Variety Hour, “Why You Should Watch Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” YouTube video, 13:20, December 23, 2016.
Avengers: Infinity War and all related terms property of Marvel Entertainment, LLC and Walt Disney Studios. Star Wars, The Clone Wars, Rebels, and all related terms property of LucasFilm (and also Walt Disney Studios). Trigun property of Funimation. No Man’s Sky property of Hello Games. And I am not affiliated with any of them.